It seems that for O’Connor, this essence — her self-image, the way she feels — was irrevocably bound up with the physical effects of lupus on her appearance, regardless of whether or not she was afflicted with symptoms at a given time. Put differently, O’Connor could only recognize herself in a disease-ravaged body. This is what O’Connor means when she says that she did not need to look at her reflection to paint the self-portrait — she knew “what she looked like” because she knew what she felt like.
To be Flannery O’Connor in 1953 was to have lupus.
But for O’Connor, was disease — or physical evidence of its damage — a prerequisite for literary greatness? Had she come to conflate this sickly appearance with her identity as a writer, and as a human being? Was this an extension of her Catholic faith, an exaltation of — and perhaps, identification with — Christ’s bodily suffering? Or was it instead that she saw the presence of her symptoms as a sort of inverse-Samsonian metaphor for strength — what sustenance lupus drained from her body was then available to nourish her writing? For all her epistolary correspondence, O’Connor grants us little insight into the connection she drew between her appearance and the quality of her work. […]
"Faulkner really gave me a kind of humanity that I might not have had. In that sense, literature is Eucharistic. You take somebody else’s suffering into your body and you’re changed by it, you’re made larger by their pain. You come to understand pain in a way that maybe otherwise you wouldn’t."
(Source: , via explore-blog)